The Monthly Miscellany: October

These past few weeks have been a blur — I keep telling myself that my to-do list is going to get shorter, but things just keep piling up higher and higher. My real goal for this month is to start being a bit more laser-focused on working on what’s critically important and leaving (or being okay “just okay”) with the rest.

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Monthly Learning Topic: Iceland
I have now acquired a small stack of books about Iceland. I’m excited to start learning more about the island.
Thoughts From Iceland
Iceland: Land of the Sagas
The Little Book of Icelanders in the Old Days
Tales of Iceland: Running with the Huldufólk in the Permanent Daylight

Professional Development Books: Designing GroupworkStrategies for the Heterogenous Classroom by Elizabeth Gilbert and, if time allows, Many Texts, Many Voices by Mary Shorey

Teaching Focus: Creating a structure for a reading workshop dominated by 1:1 reading interviews with my students that will function effectively and allow everyone to get the teacher time that they need

Fiction Reads: If Today Be Sweet by Thrity Umrigar, The Appointment by Herta Muller, and continuing to make progress in Vanity Fair, which I am enjoying thus far.

Non-fiction Reads: Tackling the Iceland books listed above

New Recipes to Try:
Fall weather is slowly but surely arriving here in Maine. I’m excited to try out some new, hearty recipes.

Italian Vegetable and Gnocchi Soup
Quinoa Black Bean Chili

Wellness Goal:
Carving out time to read for at least 20 minutes each evening.

Monthly Adventure:
Being immersed in new teaching ideas at an upcoming technology conference. I’m also designing some activities that involve “Bee Bots,” which have been a lot of fun to envision and conceptualize.

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The Monthly Miscellany: September

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Monthly Learning Topic: Iceland
My two-year wedding anniversary is coming up and planning for our deferred honeymoon (planned for summer 2018) is getting more focused. Iceland will be the first stop on our journey across the pond and I’m eager to start learning everything I can about Iceland, including where I can find the best versions of Icelandic yogurt/skyr, which I love, and may be a vegetarian’s only chance to try the native cuisine.

Professional Development Books: Visible Leaners – Krechevsky et. al (2013) and, I’m sure, some of the textbooks for the first class in a proficiency-based education certificate program that I’ve decided to add to my plate.

Teaching Focus: Implementing math talks and creating low-floor, high-ceiling math tasks

Fiction Reads: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, Seeing by José Saramago, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg, and starting Vanity Fair by William Thackery

Non-fiction Reads: Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (I didn’t get to this last month) and Teaching with Conscience in an Imperfect World by Bill Ayers

New Recipes to Try:
Last month’s PB breakfast bars were transformative! I make them every week now.
This month, we’ll be starting an apple CSA from a local farm, so it’s apples, apples, apples in the recipe queue.

Apple Almond Quinoa
Apple Pie Layer Cake
Apple Cinnamon Mini Monkey Breads

Wellness Goal:
Getting to bed at a reasonably-consistent time each weeknight.

Monthly Adventure:
Camping and hiking in Acadia National Park!

My 2017-2018 Classroom Space

I’ve long been inspired by the Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches to education — particularly by the attention devoted to setting up the classroom space with intention and simplicity. I’ve tried harder than ever before to keep some of those ideas in mind while setting up my classroom space. This is my favorite set-up of the four years I’ve lived in this 2nd grade room. Things are “zoned” this year into four areas — the library/writing area, the science corner, the geography/cultural space, and the math section.

Here are some photos to show you how things look!

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The doorway to my classroom features our class mascot “Q.” 

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The view looking in from the door.

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Our writing and grammar area. The little drawers contain parts of speech sort cards that I purchased from a Montessori company over the summer.

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Our classroom library! I’ve finally got my books under control this year. I still might have too many, but the baskets can actually accommodate them all.

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Reading buddies and cubby seats in the library. The kids ALWAYS end up sitting in our extra cubbies, so I’ve gone ahead and made them official with pillows.

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A more zoomed-out view of our library section and our “storage” hallway area.

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The Peace Corner is possibly my favorite spot in the classroom. I hope that my students will soon be able to use this space independently to monitor and process their own moods and emotions.

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Our STEM corner. I am SO fortunate to have received a grant this summer to get a 3-D printer.

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Our fish miraculously survived a summer at my house with two very intrigued cats.

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Our bird-watching station is brand new this year. I’m hoping we’ll have some birds soon!

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My art supply shelf is a major improvement over the set-up that I had last year. 

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Our geography/culture corner. I’m excited about the incidental learning opportunities built into this space. 

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My cosmic address boxes — inside each box are materials pertaining to each of the settings.

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A view of my newly-painted large wall. The lefthand side is for students to post work that they want to share and the righthand side is our “Wonder Wall,” for posting our weekly wonders.

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Our family photos shelf. I can’t wait to fill the frames with photos of my students’ families. I think it makes the space feel warmer and more welcoming.

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This is our wonder workshop inquiry shelf — students will store materials for self-driven projects in the containers. 

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My milk crate stools have survived their first full year of student use!

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One of my math shelves — finally organized in a way that makes sense and leaves the materials accessible.

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The second math shelf.

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Our yoga mats and my teeny, tiny teacher space.

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The rug, in the heart of our classroom, is where we’ll spend extensive time this year gathered as a classroom community.

The reaction to the classroom space from the students has been great thus far — they’ve treated things with care and have been fascinated to explore the many nooks and crannies in the space. I can’t wait to watch how they make the space their own!

3 Big Goals for the School Year

A new crispness can be felt in the evening air here in Maine, which can only mean summer is coming to a close. I’m just a handful of days from welcoming a new group of Curious Questioners and I’m feeling more energized and calm than I can recall being at this point in any other teaching year.

In between all of the small tasks — labelling mailboxes, finding homes for all of the random items in my classroom, and meticulously measuring for wall hangings — I’ve been trying to keep a focus on the big picture, the real reasons I pursue teaching. Having time to think about these things is a luxury that I’ll find harder to come by in just a few days.

I came across a quotation this morning while I was reading Working in the Reggio Way by Julianna Wurm and it reminded me how important it is to be rooted in a particular philosophy of education and to name it, if only to yourself.

“It is not a question of right and wrong answers, but of determining what you really believe about children and education, and then making sure that all of the millions of decisions you make as you work with children reflect that vision to the best of your capacity” (Wurm, 2005, p. 13).

With the idea of firmly aligning my practice with my views of children and education, I’ve crafted the following three big goals for the school year.

  1. Create a classroom grounded in discovery-based learning.

    “When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself” – Jean Piaget

    I am strongly in the constructivist camp, and I am committed to letting my students figure out as much as they can for themselves this year. I’ve worked more and more in this direction over the years, but I think I’m ready to allow room, time, and opportunity for students to uncover learning, to create their own connections, and to let students follow their thinking, wherever it might lead. I’m most interested in pursuing this in math — the subject that I think often is considered the least open for discoveries.

  2. Leave room for and honor wonder.

    A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had an influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over all children I should that her gift to each child in the world would be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last through life.” – Rachel Carson

    Leaving room for wonder was an area where I thought I was doing well — until I read a few books this spring and summer that allowed me to see how much further I can push the foundations that I’ve laid in this area of my practice. I’ve always honored student questions and spent time exploring them, but this year, I’m making wonder a solidified part of our schedule. We’re going to have “Wonder Workshop” on Fridays, where students will begin by writing their wonders of the week, which I will display on our “Wonder Wall.” Each week, I will select one of these questions to be our “Wonder of the Week” and students will be able to use Post-Its to share their thinking about that question. Finally, during “Wonder Workshop,” students will be working on exploring their wonders and creating projects and products that matter to them. Wonder Workshop is very open and I cannot wait to see how the students will shape it and where they will take it.

  3. Maintain an ever-present curiosity about my students.

    “Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.  –
    Loris Malaguzzi

    Working with kids is exhausting, frustrating, and exhilarating. Too often, I’m  finding myself falling into the trap of being very closed towards my students after a while, making assumptions about their motivations or how they’ll react to certain things. I think this is natural, but want to work a bit more against this instinct by finding more time to be an observer, to document what I see, and to pay closer attention to what my students are trying to show me, what their behaviors reveal to me. This will be a bit of challenge for me, particularly in terms of documenting my observations, but I am eager to see what insights such a change of perspective and practice will provide.


Having these three big goals defined makes me feel laser-focused as I begin the school year. Now comes the hard work of making sure that, as much as I can, the decisions that I make on a day-to-day basis align with this vision of teaching and learning.

The Monthly Miscellany: August

There’s a preponderance of research that shows that when you go public with your goals, you’re far more likely to accomplish them. Here’s my first monthly round-up that highlights what I hope to tackle in the next few weeks.

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Monthly Learning Topic: Solar Panels
The local college recently put in a massive solar panel installation about a mile from campus. I’ve biked by it throughout the process, and it’s been fascinating to watch it take shape. It’s prompted a lot of wondering on my part, from how solar panels actually capture sunlight, to how that energy is going to get from point A to point B.

Professional Development Books: Number Talks by Sherry ParrishWorking in the Reggio Way by Julianne Wurm

Teaching Focus: Developing meaningful, inquiry-based math activities and developing a routine for implementing Number Talks

Fiction Reads: The Guest Room & Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands (both by Chris Bohjalian), The Whore’s Child and Other Stories by Richard Russo

Non-fiction Read: Teacher Man by Frank McCourt

New Recipes to Try:
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Citrus Protein Green Smoothie
I’ve been a vegetarian for a couple of years now and I’m always looking to find interesting new recipes to try. I definitely need to come up with a quick & easy breakfast routine for when school starts again — I’ve been spoiled with all of the time I need to make eggs, toast, or even pancakes during these summer months.

Wellness Goal: 
Getting in the habit of blocking off one complete day a week(end) to not even think about school work!

Monthly Adventure:
Moving my parents into their new home & cycling in the Maine Food to Fork Fondo (33 miles)!